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"Palming It with my Brain": An Interview with Suzanne Marie Hopcroft

Suzanne Marie Hopcroft's poetry has appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Nashville Review, and The Normal School. Suzanne is an MFA student at the University of California, Irvine.

Her poem, "Valence," appeared in Issue Fifty of The Collagist.

Here, she speaks with Elizabeth Deanna Morris about romance, the unpleasantness of vulnerability, and the poet's ear.

How and why did you write “Valence”?

I wrote “Valence” because I wanted to see if I could write a poem about a (hypothetical) romantic relationship in a way that would hopefully evoke compelling, elemental emotions without necessarily relying on the sort of literality that sometimes makes ‘relationship poems’ less engaging to me personally as a reader. It’s relatively rare for me to write about this type of material—honestly, I’m more likely to invoke fraught familial relationships in my poetry—so this was somewhat new territory for me. As for how I wrote the poem—I’d say that I tried to let the individual images, objects and sounds guide me from one to the next, thinking along the way about their emotional resonance for me and for a potential reader.

In “Valence,” objects are constantly being stripped down or reconstructed (“I have been chipping apart my skin; I / have been peeling back the cover of / this rabid book” and “Stew in our resurrection.”). Yet, neither experience seems to be positive. Could you talk about how you see deconstruction and reconstruction functioning in this poem?

In that first part of the poem, I was hoping to evoke the double-sidedness of self-disclosure—to communicate what for the speaker is a laborious attempt to make herself vulnerable to another human being. I think you’re right that the experience for this speaker is unpleasant, painful; it’s what she is supposed to do rather than what she wants to do, and so it represents a sort of deconstruction of the self rather than simply an act of self-revelation. Something similar happens near the end with “Stew in our resurrection.” The resuscitation of this relationship essentially depends on one partner’s attempts to deny what seems to be her nature. So the act of reconstructing the relationship is itself pained and complicated, and there’s an ominous quality to it.

Your poem has some really amazing plays of sound in it. We get “back” and “book,” “jetsam of your zeal floats” (which I realized I was drawn to because if you switch “zeal floats” it becomes “floats zeal,” which is close to “flotsam”), and more, until we finally land on “Pat down the hour until / we know it is ours.” How do you see sound playing into your work? Is there a natural musicality to the way your write, or is it more purposeful? Do you see it creating additional meaning?

I was a singer when I was younger, and I think (or maybe I hope?) that some aspect of my musical training has seeped into my writing—that my "ear" is different because of the hours that I spent in tiny practice rooms working on my voice. I’m not sure I’d say that it’s always purposeful—at least, I don’t always sit down and actively choose words for their sonic quality—but I do think that sound often guides me, and I really try to go where it leads. If anything, I think that constructions that are sonically rich sometimes help me to discover and develop meanings that I might not originally have conceived of or intended.

Could you give us some reading recommendations?

Right now I’m teaching a writing course at UC Irvine on readerly empathy and novelistic representations of empathy, and it’s giving me an opportunity to revisit some texts that I’m really passionate about. If you haven’t read Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea or Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy, you should!

What have you been writing recently?

The last poem that I wrote was a re-imagining of parts of my mother’s life through the lens of noir. I’m also working on a series of short poems that address some metaphysical questions related to mythologies of death, dying, and the afterlife.


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